Zero-dimensional chess — Crooked Timber

One reason I’m thinking a fair bit about the long term future is that immediate prospects look grim, particularly in the US.

According to this piece from the NY Times on Obama’s post-election plan

After two years of operating at loggerheads with Republicans, Mr. Obama and his aides are planning a post-election agenda for a very different political climate. They see potential for bipartisan cooperation on reducing the deficit, passing stalled free-trade pacts and revamping the education bill known as No Child Left Behind — work that Arne Duncan, Mr. Obama’s education secretary, says could go a long way toward repairing “the current state of anger and animosity.”

Translation: Mr Obama and his aides plan a series of pre-emptive capitulations, after which the Republicans will demand the repeal of the healthcare act (or maybe abolition of Social Security). When/if that is refused, the Repugs will shut down the government, and this time they will hold their nerve until Obama folds.

BTW, the only thing I knew about Arne Duncan before this was that he was a fair country (ie Australian NBL) basketball player. But reading his bio (corporate-style charter school booster, fan of incentives based on standardised tests etc) along with the fact that he’s in close with Obama is indicative of why things have gone so badly in this administration.

Posted via email from John’s posterous

36 thoughts on “Zero-dimensional chess — Crooked Timber

  1. Boy, the chooks are coming home to roost, as to Blairite politics.
    The Centre had gifted it an opportunity for inestimable advance of rational politics with the collapse of the neocons here, in America and in Britain with Blair looking safe and competent in 2000, after the collapse of Tory government there. Already Labor has threatened to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, having gone through one PM already and the current one seems still tentative, having survived rather than triumphed over a remarkable six months in Aussie politics.
    But Britain now has a nasty Cameron shark circling in the water and the Right in the US, no doubt, will have many similar delights in store for the US “bottom third”.
    But why?
    Yep, Bone headed stupidity and if some reports are true, too beholden to Wall st and selective mutual obligation and “moral risk” notions.
    But what is this Afghanistan nonsense they persist with?
    Must they keep this bizarre war running to keep the ordinance industry running and avoid slipping further into recession?
    Uncle Sam seems to have the arse out of his trousers, just the moment.

  2. Yep, Obama, UK Labour and Australian Labor have all blown terrific chances to change things for the better, not to mention lock in a long period of governing. And all because they listened too much to the traditional conservative core – big business and the generals.

    I’m especially amazed that Obama did not have the foresight to put the cleaners through the top military, intelligence and foreign policy “experts” at a time when their own blunders had thoroughly discredited them. Reading Bob Woodward’s inside account he really wanted to shut the Afghanistan war down but was too weak to overrule the generals, in particular.

    And at a pragmatic level he should really have made Wall St and the banks take the blame for his economic troubles, and put forward vindictive legislation that would be blocked and be seen to be blocked by his opponents. That wouldn’t have helped the economy but would have turned it into a burden, instead of a gift, for the Republicans. If faced with troubles you are powerless to fix you need to find good scapegoats and firmly tie your opponents to them, otherwise they will be tied to you.

  3. Changes in the upper superstructure (Bush or Obama for example) make little substantive difference to the overall direction of the USA. Just as in Australia, we see that the two party system of right wing and ultra right wing legitimises insitutionalised and corporatised Capital-Labour relations which keep the status quo firmly in place. Changing governments now changes nothing in what are, in the Anglophone world, two-party, one-ideology states. Obsessing about party and personality politics is useless and completely misses the point about what is happening in late stage corporate capitalism.

    Corporate capitalism and the indoctrinated consumerism it feeds on cannot be stopped but it will stop itself by destroying the environment. What it will break down into is pretty much unpredictable. Ensuing socialist or green utopias are as totally improbable as the continuance of endless cornucopian consumerism.

  4. This page is worth a read. Some serious comments followed by some humour. Relevance to this thread? Well, all political obessessing fades into insignifigance compared to the harsh biophysical realities we will soon be faced with.

    Cornucopian Man vs. Biophysical Reality.

    It contains a paragraph I wish I had written myself.

    “The second undercurrent, however, is even darker: the perpetration of an egregious crime against humanity and the biosphere. While it is still tragically-controversial to say so in most circles, our Industrial Civilization appears to be in the nascent stages of an epic implosion, as the net energy to power it begins to decline ever faster down its slippery slope. The collateral damage to both people and the biosphere from the still-unprepared-for implosion will likely be great indeed — and the less preparation we do now, the more damage we will likely see.”

  5. This

    “all political obessessing fades into insignificance compared to the harsh biophysical realities we will soon be faced with”

    is the comment of the week.

    I don’t know about other people but when I shop at the supermarket I kid myself that I have a reasonable feel for what the bill will be at the checkout as I casually pick items noting the prices as I go. Never even close, it is always way more. This is the same degree of appreciation the we have had for the impact of our life decisions on our environment over the last 150 years, and the total accumulated bill for that entire period is about to arrive. Wham.

  6. @BilB
    I tend to agree – but on the other hand I know that I get a very biased view of the world when based in Australia. We have really gone backwards the last 20 or 30 years in terms of mass access to reliable information and the general zeitgeist of consumerist boosterism and insularity. But there are great things happening in Australia too, though they will be more or less suppressed through marginalisation by the wealthy and their lapdogs. But that process of marginalisation is a significant component of Australian cultural heritage – hence the national effort to sustain it 🙂

  7. @derrida derider

    Well said DD … this is exactly how Obama should have responded, certainly from September 15 2008.

    Had he put aside “bipartisanhip” and made the Republicans and their fringe “own” their mess he’d have been in an incomparably better position to respond effectively not only to the hospital pass he got, but to the borader expectations of those who supported him.

  8. It seems that the lack of caucus solidarity in the Democratic party can lead to barriers in legislating for reform, as each member of Congress votes according to their own political (re-election) needs rather than those of the party. To those who are knowledgeable about the American political system, is this a reasonable explanation for Obama’s lack of progress on reform?

  9. That

    “and made the Republicans and their fringe “own” their mess”

    is a poignant comment. I was thinking along those lines myself.

    This whole God awful mess is the culmination of George W Bush’s greatest achievements, and these Republicans want more of the same. Greed, envy, hate, resentment, arrogance, contempt and disdain are all hallmarks of applied republican philosophy. And these are the self professed Religeous Right.

    America is no longer “great”.

  10. @BilB

    I always say, “There is no such thing as a great man or woman or even a great nation. There is only humanity’s need to believe in such myths of greatness.”

    We must get away from all these personality cults of believing in the greatness of this or that leader. None of them are great and most of them are venal. All of them are irrelevant compared to the real forces of nature and history.

  11. @Ikonoclast

    We must get away from all these personality cults of believing in the greatness of this or that leader. None of them are great and most of them are venal.

    Quite right. If they have managed to claw their way to the top of the tree one can assume in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary that they are accomplished liars and lacking in any ethical scruple. The system is designed to ensure that the privileged can do as they pelase without popular objection.

    That’s why we need a radically different system for translating the sovereignty of working people into policies that advance their interests — a system of truly inclusive governance.

    The love of heroes and “great men/women” (though it is mostly men because they fit the hero image better) really is a reflection of the disempowerment of the many. People, quite reasonably, feel that they have no real relevance to decision-making and have little good alternative but to invest their hopes in a saviour.

    If one looks at public culture, the notion of the hero is much the dominant theme — that all worthy things are the result of action by remarkable individuals. In every walk of life one sees this asymmetry. It suppurates from every pore in public discourse. Collaboration is meaningless without a great individual to shape it.

    Need one inquire further about the link between culture and the rule of private property? Is this anything more than an affirmation of privilege?

    As Marx had it in The German Ideology (1845):

    The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas;

  12. There was one truly great leader, and he was Alfred of Wessex, a man who created great civility from intense anarchy and turmoil, and whose achievements from a very short period of governance frame many of the tenets and structure of our society. Alfred the Great.

    There was a time when one could have thought of America as being great, well at least they thought that way of themselves. I don’t see much of that time left.

  13. The modern “two-party system” is a one-party system with a pressure relief valve.

    After Bush the GOP was finished. Two years of Obama and they’re the default ruling party once more. The system works.

  14. HJames Wolfenstein was on PM tonight saying that the Obama administration agreed that anything that didn’t involve rewarding the architects of the financial collapse would have done to much damage to “the system”. To save the system they had to reward its architects.

    That produced a reactionary populist backlash which will of course reiterate the system. So as you say, Gerard, the system works.

    I prefer the notion of plebiscitary dictatorship.

  15. Clearly, for the purposes of this thread, zero dimensional chess equates to one hand clap.

  16. While the Republicans don’t really deserve the gains they will make in these elections, there may be some upsides that I can look forward to. Studies in the US show that government tends to grow more slowly when different parties are in control of the executive and legislative branches than when one party controls both.

    In particular, having a Democrat president and a Republican congress appears to be the best combination for limited government and responsible fiscal policy. This is largely because the majority of states that are net recipients from the federal government tend to lean Republican in presidential elections, while the majority of states that are net contributors to the federal government lean Democratic. So that combination is the best way of containing the big-spending pork-barrelers.

    The last time there was a Democratic president and a Republican congress was 1995-2000, and that period delivered some of the best outcomes in terms of fiscal policy and economic growth that we have seen in a long while. Indeed, looking back on the late 90’s it seems like a positively heavenly era of (at least relative) peace, prosperity and freedom compared to the hell we have had for the last decade. What I wouldn’t give to have that time over again.

    And there is a good prospect of the new arrangement delivering some real reform of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Many liberals in the US are not happy at the way the grey lobby tried to torpedo universal health care, and so will be less inclined to automatically defend their entitlements. Ah, I am starting to see a silver lining and the dark clouds receding 🙂

  17. Wow – how much negativism can one brain hold!

    Ikonoklast –

    “Just as in Australia, we see that the two party system of right wing and ultra right wing legitimises insitutionalised and corporatised Capital-Labour relations which keep the status quo firmly in place”

    “all political obessessing fades into insignificance compared to the harsh biophysical realities we will soon be faced with”

    “There is no such thing as a great man or woman or even a great nation. There is only humanity’s need to believe in such myths of greatness.”

    Let’s all go slash our wrists now – we’re all rooned!!!!

    Frankly – I prefer the ‘rational optimist’ outlook on life.

  18. MU Said:

    In particular, having a Democrat president and a Republican congress appears to be the best combination for limited government and responsible fiscal policy.

    And yet, in 1999 when we had a Democrat president and a Republican congress the former bowed to the latter in his regulatory approach, repealing Galss-Steagall — the single biggest predisposing factor in the authoring those financial “weapons of mass destruction” that were used to lay waste to the world’s financial system and set in motion a process in which the public, through the state (and endosed by the Republicans) recapitalised the banks to “save” the system.

    Americans, it is said, don’t do irony, so I won’t call this irony but rather a case of what goes around comes around.

  19. I would agree with others that Obama has wasted a huge opportunity in terms of mandate, popular support and legislative power. to a lesser extent the same is true for Labor here ever since the panic started early in 2010.

    Yet I can’t wonder whether this failure in both cases is due to “weakness” (& compromising links to big business backers), or that many leading figures in Democrat and Australian Labor Right politics seem to be conservative minded figures themselves. Aside from industrial relations causes that link them to their bases for pre-selection in their parties, Obama, Rudd and now Gillard, not to mention the entire NSW Labor Right, really do not support any progressive cause. Climate change, immigration, social security, consumer protection, business regulation – these people are conservatives in progressive clothes.

    In other words, the leadership of both the Democrat and Labor parties, seem to be well to the right of most of their own party.

  20. @Socrates

    True but beside the point. Obama needed to discredit the whole paradigm associated with the Bush regime and thus make all those who might be inclined to treat it with sympathy fear being tainted as a shill for Wall St.

    He needed to force them into discrediting themselves by getting the Repugs to make futile attempts to save the system they authored from total collapse.

    On September 15 2008 he could simply have said: the Republicans are the authors of the current crisis, but they would have you believe they knew what they were doing. These people who are dragging the country into the abuyss are their friends who have used Republican rules to enrich themselves. It is time Mr Bush and the Republicans show the country that they can call their friends to account and save the country and perhaps the western world from ruin.

    I suspect they are going to want to bail out Wall St, but personally as a Democrat, I’d rather use the money to bail out Main street and rebuild the country they have trashed. But if the Republicans have a better plan, then we should hear it now, because time is short.

    In short, he puts it on them. The Democrats refuse to approve bailing out Wall St. What are they going to do? What material will they have to work with?

    A whole bunch of nothing. The financial sector goes into free fall between Novemebr and inauguration until the putative tea party types realise that there is no free lunch and demand the new Obama regime respond. By that time of course the TARP assets will be far cheaper to buy and you can play left-of-centre populist/FDR reincarnate for two full terms. That’s even better than invading another country.

  21. @Socrates

    While I agree that Gillard (indeed you’d now almost have to ask why Gillard’s pushed Rudd to abandon the ETS and destroy his electoral standing at the same time) and Obama have both proved to be barely left of centre that is really only another way of stating the question. Why do progressive parties elect such conservative leaders?

    I guess you could work out special explanations based on the vampire grip the NSW Right exerts on the ALP and so forth, but maybe there isa general explanation that social democracy has failed because of agent/principal problems.

    I cannot see a financial panic if the Republicans win the House. (I doubt they’ll win the Senate) Brokers get out the champagne, not the hairshirts, when conservatives win. I also cannot see a movement that wants the US government to gets its hands off their (government-run) Medicare embracing fiscal reality with or without a panic.

  22. Socrates, I agree. The main political parties have spent a generation removing independent people capable of thinking for themselves; all that’s left are rumps of neolib/socialcons in complete control and minds shut to alternative ideas and a better politics.

  23. @BilB
    Bilb – I hate the costs in the supermarkets – I can no longer shop happily….
    Its not until you get oseas that you realise just how badly we are being fleeced in the aisles. Then you drive home and the state government fleeces you with a speed device. Then you stop for the mail and the electricity bill fleeces you. Then your house burns down and the insurance company fleeces you. Then you go to court to fight the insurance company and your lawyer fleeces you.

    No wonder they say Australia is a nation that rode on the sheeps back.

  24. @Alan

    I cannot see a financial panic if the Republicans win the House. (I doubt they’ll win the Senate) Brokers get out the champagne, not the hairshirts, when conservatives win.

    I was not talking about now but then i.e September 15 2008

    As The Bard had Brutus say:

    There is a tide in the affairs of men,
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
    Omitted, all the voyage of their life
    Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
    On such a full sea are we now afloat;
    And we must take the current when it serves,
    Or lose our ventures.

    Or if you prefer Horace it’s a kind of carpe diem thing …

  25. The Anglo ‘left’ parties died a long time ago, the late 80’s to the 90’s basically. Clinton/Blair/Langy/Hawke-Keating basically had the same theme. Talk left (and throw some social bones, which to be fair H-K were much better at than the others) and do right economically.

    Clinton gutting social security and manufacturing there (plus deregulation, especially finance, and wars), Keating captured by Stone’s Treasury (social security held here but manufacturing was gutted and deregulation abounded), Blair’s ‘New’ Labour (more manufacturing gutting and even more deregulation).

    Hard to escape the the conclusion that these were just neo-liberal parties which put fig leaves out to cover their actions. In fact it was these parties that did the bulk of the heavy lifting in many areas, not the conservative ones prior or after them.

    Even Reagan was scared to hit social security as hard as Clinton did (though he smashed the unions pretty effectively). Ditto Blair and deregulation and the hidden privitisations of the PPPs, far more neo-liberal than Thatcher in many ways. Or the huge unilateral tariff cuts of H-K that the Coalition would never had the courage to do.

    The politics are fascinating, by the left parties advancing large parts of the neo-liberal (and their far more dangerous cousins the neo-cons) agendas, large amounts of potential opposition were nullified (you can see the same sort of thing in the US today, since Obhama got in the left anti-war movement has died, even though he has actually expanded the wars).

    The mechanisms are not well documented, though the Stone-Keating nexus was pretty well covered at the time by outlier publications like The Eye (which the Govt drove to bankruptcy). Plus Clinton’s and Bliar’s money grubbing activities (deliberate sics) especially post power.

    Definitely a fruitful area for research, make a great book, if it was ever able to be published of course.

  26. @paul walter
    Paul for the purposes of this thread one dimensional chess could mean playing with yourself. It can be done with the right amount of spin.

    For all the grand speeches to the pawns at election time – the kings are still off their heads.

  27. @Fran Barlow

    Fran, I don’t think it is fair to say that Americans don’t do irony. What about the stand-up comedians who wanted the Obama administration to “keep their government hands off my Medicare”? Or how about the way America boasts of being the land of the free, and then imprisons such a large percentage of its population?

    No, I thoroughly enjoy their sick sense of humour.

  28. I had my own wake up call yesterday, attending a march and meeting in Adeleaide protesting the new Rann “open slather; done in secret”, “development ” policy, which imposes both on established Adelaide- suburbs like mine subject to misappropriation of amenities thru secret deals with “developers” and the wholesale smashing of the often beautiful, fertile and productive fringe areas of the Barossa, Fleurieu and Adelaide hills, for the worst of real estate “development”.
    All done thru a mix of secret arrangements, culminating in the absolute unleishing of untrammelled development, post election.
    Alice, I had a “blue” response on the tip of my tongue after #28, but because you are a lady will not proceed further, for fear of offending a more refined sensibility.

  29. @OldSkeptic

    There is no large viable moderate left party to vote for. They all turned right wing long ago. I guess we have the Greens. The Greens will be proven right eventually (or perhaps quite soon) when the environment’s capacity to sustain us collapses.

  30. I’m hoping the Greens keep getting stronger; the Labor party may suffer in the short term but in the longer run they will simply have to wear it and form regular coalitions with the Greens if they want to be in government. The Greens at least have clear goals concerning the environmental changes we are in the process of making.

  31. Donald Oats, I think the ALP realises this itself, that’s why its making hay while the sun shines now, as to “development”.
    I daresay you’re right.
    But will there be anything left to salvage by the time sanity returns?

  32. I don’t think anyone really knows what is going to happen in Washington. My Tea Party friends think they have shaken the foundations of Washington — but none of them know who John Boehner is, nor do any of them have any swat with Mitch McConnell. The more rational of the TPers say they voted to end gridlock, but Sen. McConnell has promised more gridlock to stop the government from functioning. If the TPers have any clout, they may march on McConnell next.

    Down at 1600 Pennsylvania, they may have finally gotten the message that they need to move more quickly to disassemble the Bush machine — but they got that message from the BP blowout in the Gulf, not from any rational analysis of how to stop the slide of the U.S.

    Meanwhile, McConnell and Boehner propose exactly the wrong solutions to the nation’s current economic messes, and Obama, though not an economist, has good enough advisers to know better.

    It’s a series of crises, some of them not clearly related to each other, but each of them rooted in the Republican laissez faire attitudes of the last decade.

    It’s is now a good time to pray that our governmental institutions are strong enough to withstand the chaos likely to result in the next few months. Who can seize the levers of power? No one knows, especially not those who want to seize the levers.

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